CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
The aim of the present study was to establish the determinants of academic performance of female students at a university in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe. This chapter presents the research methodology. Aspects discussed include: the research design, population and sample for both pilot and main study. Data collection instruments, namely, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews, data collection procedures, data analysis, pilot study, main study, validity, reliability and ethical considerations are also discussed.
Gray (2009:131) defines a research design as the overarching plan for the collection, measurement and analysis of data. Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011:125) also define a research design as the strategic, tactical and practicalities of the research. Van Wyk (2011:3) further defines the research design as the overall plan for connecting the conceptual research problem to the pertinent (and achievable) empirical research. This implies that the research design is there to effectively address the research questions on academic performance of female university students. Cohen et al. (2011:21) argue that it is critical for researchers to give way to methodological pragmatism in addressing research questions. This implies that the chosen paradigms should be the best and employed in the most suitable way in order to answer the research questions in a practical and compatible manner. The research design is derived from the research problem and leads to the research methods such as sampling, data collection and analysis (Van Wyk, 2011:2). In this current study, a qualitative approach and a case study design were used to establish the determinants of academic performance of female university students. The qualitative approach which was used in the study is explained below.
A qualitative approach is an approach that attempts to understand social reality and must be grounded in people’s experiences and understanding of their social reality (Gray, 2009:22). Denzin and Lincolin (2011:5) define a qualitative approach as an approach having an emphasis on processes and meanings that are not rigorously examined or measured in terms of amounts that are difficult to quantify. Fraenkel and Wallen (1996:35) also state that the qualitative approach is a method which attempts to understand and interpret what exists at present in the form of conditions, practices, processes, trends, effects, attitudes and beliefs as they are perceived by the actors. Similarly, Denscombe (2007:75) views a qualitative approach as an approach that emphasises subjectivity, description and interpretation and deals with people’s perceptions and meanings, attitudes and beliefs, and feelings and emotions. The researcher found the qualitative approach to be more suitable for the study of academic performance of female university students since the data which were obtained from both the female university students and the lecturers was difficult to quantify because it dealt with feelings, beliefs, attitudes and emotions. Gray (2009:24) also defines a qualitative approach as the study of the “life world” human experiences.
The qualitative approach tries to paint a factual and accurate picture of the situation as it unfolds in the natural setting (Cohen et al., 2011:46; Denscombe, 2007:75; Neuman, 2000:122). This approach is normally employed when studying naturalistic phenomena (Merriam, 2009:15; Patton, 2002:104). The present study focused on the determinants of academic performance of university female students in real life situations which is a naturalistic phenomenon, based on the real life situations of the female students that occur naturally hence the choice of the qualitative approach.
Patton (2002:105) notes that the researcher’s experiences and insights are an important part of the enquiry in order to understand the phenomenon under study. The researcher in qualitative research is interested in how the participants interpret their experiences (Merriam, 2009:5). The qualitative approach allowed the researcher to probe deeply the female university students and the lecturers’ responses to gather more in-depth data about their experiences and insights regarding their academic performance. The qualitative approach revealed the determinants of academic performance of the female university students from the point of view of the lecturers and the female students themselves.
Denscombe (2007:84) posits that the qualitative approach considers the experiences of the individual as significant data in their own right. Similarly, the present study considered the experiences of the female university students and lecturers as significant data. The world of the female university students, like all other worlds, is socially constructed and subjective. The qualitative method was found suitable for this study mainly because it describes, clarifies, analyses and interprets conditions, situations and aspects of education (academic performance) and students’ behaviour as they exist and as interpreted by the participants. In its broadest meaning, the qualitative approach is a theoretical point of view that advocates the study of direct experiences taken at face value, and one which sees behaviour as determined by the phenomenon of experience rather than by external objective and physically described reality (Sidhu, 2003:110; Neuman, 2006:122). This study sought to gather data on direct experiences of the female students under study, hence the qualitative approach was most appropriate.
The central question of the qualitative method is: “What is the meaning, structure and essence of the lived experience of this phenomenon for this person or group of people?” (Best & Khan, 2003:255). This study was based on the experiences of the female university students and their lecturers in everyday life and it is through them that facts are established hence the suitability of the approach. Gall, Borg and Gall (1996:600) also assert that the qualitative approach is the study of the world as it appears to individuals, in this case, the experiences of the participants in this study.
Sidhu (2003:111) proposes that studies which deal with human behaviour are best studied qualitatively since it is difficult to quantify human behaviour. Since the current study explored the determinants of academic performance of the female university students, the qualitative approach was appropriate as it involved a close examination of feelings, emotions and attitudes of the female university students and lecturers. Data obtained using the qualitative approach from cultures and human experiences are soft data which is difficult to quantify (Sidhu, 2003:111; Bogdan & Biklen, 1992:62). Soft data is difficult to handle statistically hence the need to study it qualitatively (Neuman, 2006:222). The qualitative approach was appropriate for this study because the inquiry was seeking to address issues that affect human beings, which were difficult to quantify. The use of the qualitative approach in this study was an in-depth way of unveiling human behaviour in relation to academic performance. Although many researches on academic performance are mostly quantitative in nature (for example, Cheesman, Simpson & Wint, 2006:5; Pedrosa, Dachs, Maia, Andrade & Carvalho, 2006:8; Johnson, 2006:2; OECD, 2011:40), the current study suited the qualitative approach since it explored female university students and lecturers’ perspectives and experiences as advocated by Pedrosa et al. (2006:8) who view the qualitative approach as the best approach when investigating human experiences from the point of view of participants.
A qualitative approach examines a small population and probes deeply to analyse interaction between factors in order to obtain a clear picture of the phenomenon (Cohen et al., 2011:219; Neuman, 2006:308; Best & Kahn, 2006:93; Sidhu, 2003:110). This research studied a relatively small sample in order to probe deeply into the determinants of academic performance of the female university students. Denscombe (2007:97) states that the qualitative approach prefers to concentrate its efforts on getting a clear picture of the things as they are directly experienced by people. The current study was determined to establish the clear picture of the phenomenon under study, namely, what influences the academic performance of female university students at a state university in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe hence the suitability of the qualitative approach.
The case study design which was used in the current study is discussed in the following section.
Case study design
A case study design examines a social unit as a whole and probes deeply to analyse the interaction between factors (Best & Kahn, 2006:93; Neuman, 2006:308). Haralambos and Holborn (2008:794) define a case study design as a detailed examination of a phenomenon. The main benefit of using a case study design is that the focus is on one or a few instances which allowed the researcher to deal with the subtleties and intricacies of complex situations. It was appropriate for the current study to adopt a case study design in order to have a comprehensive understanding of the topic under investigation and the participants taking part in the study. The determinants of academic performance of female university students is a complex phenomenon which requires the researcher to deeply probe and be immersed in the real social situation. Denscombe (2007:38) states that the case study design works best when the researcher wants to investigate real life situations in depth. The case study design helped to bring out an in-depth understanding of the determinants of academic performance of the female university students.
Studies focusing on society and culture in a group, a program or an organisation typically espouse some form of case study design as a strategy (Marshall & Rossman, 2008:55). Female university students are a specific group at a specific organisation hence the suitability of a case study design. According to Denscombe (2007:36), the great strength of a case study design is that it allows the researcher to concentrate on a specific instance or situation and to identify, or attempt to identify the various interactive processes at work. Female university students in the institution of higher learning were a group of individuals who were in a setting and had peculiar attributes which needed to be studied.
The study of the determinants of academic performance of female university students was done in a natural setting focusing on everyday situations. Nichmias and Nichmias (1995:146) also assert that a case study design involves an observation of a single group or event at a single point in time in a natural setting. Thus, the case is the situation, group, organisation or the specific problem. In the present study, the specific group studied was the students and their lecturers in a specific university situation which was unique and affected their social life, hence, the case study design.
In a case study design, the researcher typically observes the characteristics of an individual unit. This could be a person, a clique, a school or a community (Cohen et al., 2011:20). Gibbs (2007:160) views a college or a school as a social organisation in its own right. The present study was conducted with an individual university community. The case study design is most suitable for studies that describe in detail what goes on in a particular activity or setting (Cohen et al., 2011:19; Gray 2009:14). In this case, the extent to which determinants of academic performance creates learning gaps that influence the female university students was investigated at a state university in Masvingo Provence, Zimbabwe. Similarly, the case study design enables the researchers to make a thick description of the phenomenon under study (Creswell, 2008:175). The case study design revealed the determinants of learning gaps that affected the female university students.
The study of human behaviour is complex in nature and requires a careful analysis of events and incidents which help the researcher to understand why people react and behave the way they do. Thus, the case study design was used because the researcher was directly involved in the research process and was able to take note of the determinants of academic performance of female university students in their natural setting. Qualitative researchers often place great emphasis on the importance of direct involvement by the researcher so as understand the perspective of the respondents (Upadhya & Singh, 2010:36; Sapsford & Jupp, 2006:112). Changes in academic performance were also noted in order to check their impact on the determinants. Gray (2009:389) suggests that case study designs provide the opportunity to use data collection tools which collect detailed information such as in-depth interviews and focus groups. Since this study sought to collect detailed information about the determinants of the academic performance of female university students, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews were employed.
CHAPTER ONE: THE PROBLEM AND ITS CONTEXT.
1.2 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.3 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
1.5 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
1.6 RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY
1.7 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
1.8 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
1.10 LIMITATIONS OF STUDY
1.11 DELIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
1.12 DEFINITIONS OF TERMS
1.13 CHAPTER OUTLINE
CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
2.2 GENDER CODES AND THE ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
2.3 STUDENTS’ FAMILY BACKGROUND AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
2.4 LECTURERS’ ATTITUDES AND COMPETENCIES AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
2.5 INFLUENCE OF RESOURCES ON ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.2 RESEARCH DESIGN
3.5 DATA COLLECTION PROCEDURE
3.6 DATA ANALYSIS
3.7 PILOT STUDY
3.8 MAIN STUDY
3.9 VALIDITY AND RELIABILITY
3.10 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
CHAPTER FOUR: DATA PRESENTATION, ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
4.2 DEMOGRAPHIC DATA
4.3 RESEARCH QUESTION 1: To what extent do gendered cultural codes determine the academic performance of female university students?
4.4 RESEARCH QUESTION 2: How does the family background affect the academic performance of female students?
4.5 RESEARCH QUESTION 3: How do lecturers’ attitudes and competencies influence academic performance of the female students?
4.6 RESEARCH QUESTION 4: To what extent do resources affect the academic performance of female university students?
4.7 RESEARCH QUESTION 5: What strategies can be employed in order to improve the academic performance of female university students?
4.8 DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
CHAPTER 5: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS.
5.2 REVIEW OF THE RESEARCH PROBLEM
5.3 Summary of reviewed literature
5.4 Research methodology
5.5 SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS
5.8 CONTRIBUTION OF THE STUDY.
5.9 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
5.10 FINAL COMMENTS
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
DETERMINANTS OF ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE OF FEMALE STUDENTS AT A UNIVERSITY IN MASVINGO PROVINCE, ZIMBABWE